Irrespective of your Mac expertise, there are times when your problem-solving know-how just isn’t enough. From the non-stop crashing syndrome, through to the dreaded: “Your hard disk is damaged: reformat?”-style message. So, a good commercial disk utility is a must. Until recently, Norton Utilities was the only choice, courtesy of its comprehensive suite of tools. But, Alsoft’s Disk Warrior has certainly made inroads into Norton’s domain. Symantec has continued beavering away in the background, resulting in version 5.0 of the evergreen product.
First off, LiveUpdate has been included. This is the same as the new feature in Norton AntiVirus (see page 70), where Symantec’s site is checked for updates, either at the press of a button, or through a scheduling system. Though more useful for virus definitions than software updates, it’s a nice addition.
The main Norton screen has been given a minor facelift, and now allows you to launch Norton AntiVirus. Aside from that, the look-&-feel are about the same. Similarly, some of the tools remain essentially unchanged.
One major change has been made to Disk Doctor – the most important part of Norton Utilities. With LiveRepair, you can now fix problems with your startup partition – even if Disk Doctor is running from there. Prior to this, the procedure was to boot from the Norton CD, run the program, select the partition, and repair. LiveRepair has the additional advantage of letting you run the latest version of Norton from hard disk, rather than an outdated one on the CD. A second addition is the “undo last fixes” facility. Oddly, the otherwise excellent manual doesn’t appear to mention this at all – and it’s difficult to think of a situation where such a feature would be useful. In tests, Disk Doctor handled most hard-disk problems thrown at it, but failed on two occasions where Disk Warrior succeeded.
Speed Disk has also had a major improvement – it now optimizes the disk’s directory structures (B-trees). This results in faster directory scanning and file access. Unfortunately, it still can’t defragment the startup disk, but, retains the ability to optimize disks that have very little free space. Also, it now offers a number of optimization choices, including CD-ROM mastering and Multimedia. Also, speed of operation appears to be marginally faster.
System Info, Norton’s testing program, puts your Mac’s system and hard disk through their paces. It now has comparative statistics for all machines up to the Power Mac G3 450. However, it still fails to give real-world results due to the insistence of a 128K disk-cache – rather than the recommended 32K per 1MB of RAM – and a display running in 256 colours. Odd results can certainly arise with such settings.
Three of the tools are closely linked: FileSaver, Volume Recover and UnErase. FileSaver, keeps track of the files on each partition, scanning every so often – according to the time frequency set up in the control panel – and backing up each directory. This is essential for recovering a crashed disk with Volume Recover, or finding a deleted file – or folder full of files with UnErase. In testing, Volume Recover recreated a trashed partition perfectly. Again, though, no
real changes here.
That leaves Fast Find, Disklight and Norton Disk Editor, all of which remain unchanged. But, Norton CrashGuard – probably responsible for more crashes than it prevented – has gone.
Norton Utilities is now sold as suitable only for Power Macs. Interestingly, only UnErase is PowerPC-specific, all other components being FAT applications. Similarly, only operating systems beyond Mac OS 8.0 are now supported – but not Mac OS 9.
Are there really sufficient improvements to warrant a jump from version 4 to 5? While realizing the commercial implications of doing this – more people will upgrade when a full numerical step has taken place than if, say, a half step – surely more should be expected than a bit of a facelift. Only a few new features worth mentioning?
Without a doubt, Norton Utilities is the most complete suite of disk-repair, and maintenance tools around. But unless you need any of the new features, I can’t recommend upgrading.